Why It’s Important To Talk To ‘Quiet’ Colleagues

Today is World Mental Health Day and this year’s theme is mental health in the workplace.

As a sufferer myself, working in a demanding and stressful job can make the job itself ten times harder than most people around me. But, recently I have been getting rather annoyed at how colleagues with physical disabilities are treated with extra care and everyone in the team are made aware of their difficulties. Why can’t it be the same with mental health? Why are we still ashamed of being open about it?

I always envy my colleagues who seem so confident because I wish I was like them. The ones who are so loud and talkative. They’re the ones who get noticed. I am someone who is known to be very quiet, mainly because every single day, I battle with anxiety and intrusive thoughts led by my eating disorder and borderline personality disorder (BPD).

Sure, it has gotten better with putting myself out there and my medication definitely helps. But, there are those days where my anxiety gets very bad at work and I end up getting angry at myself. I tend to isolate myself because that’s where I feel most safe. Being alone.

On bad days, I have to pluck up the courage to ask someone for help on something. It can take a while. I might not even do it because I am that scared. Actually physically talking to someone can makes me very nervous some days. So on those days, I avoid it. I just stay in my comfort zone. Afterwards, I regret it.

I used to do that at school. If I needed help, I would stay silent. Years of treatment taught me that by avoiding things you fear, it will only get even more bigger and scarier. So just do it. But that is easier said than done. Sometimes, you need a bit more support and encouragement from those around you.

On those days when I’m struggling at work, what I would like is more support from colleagues. But because I have isolated myself so much due to my mental health problems, I have failed to build close friendships with colleagues and so it is incredibly hard to know who to go to and who to trust. It gets me down a lot because I always see colleagues laughing and talking to each other, and I’m just there fading into the background. As a child, I felt invisible and sometimes at work, that invisibility feeling comes back. I feel worthless a and useless.

If there’s someone in the office who is quiet, why not approach them? What’s the worst that could happen? Talk to them. Build them up. Help them. Praise them on their work. It’s those little things that can help them in such a huge way.

We can get so preoccupied with work itself and forget about some of the colleagues around us and how they could be feeling. Work will always be there but your colleagues might not. So, why not start a conversation today?

Managing Strong Emotions & Impulsivity

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One of the main Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) behaviour I struggle with the most is intrusive thoughts and impulsive acts. I have worked on it in therapy but it is still a major issue I currently face when it comes to relationships and how I relate to others.

My impulsive thought and behaviour is triggered by criticism – by that I mean the tone of voice (someone being rude to me/shouting at me), rejection and being ignored in one way or another.

When I am triggered, I automatically end up in a crisis. It doesn’t matter where I am, I’d either start crying, get angry, hurt myself or just freeze and not move for hours. Depending on who the person at the receiving end is, I could also blurt out stuff I don’t necessarily mean.

“I hate you”

“I am fat”

“I am disgusting”

“Everybody hates me”

“I should die”

“Why can’t I just be dead?”

“I am never eating again”

“I hate myself”

These actions is driven by anger. If someone is critical towards me, I feel attacked and feel like they don’t care about me. Saying and doing impulsive actions is a way for me to tell the person that they’ve hurt me. As I was being bullied at school, I bottled up my emotions and now it all seems to be coming out in impulsive and destructive ways. I feel emotions too strongly, can’t control it and lash out.

“Control” is another big word in situations like this. I’ve realised that, I lash out because I feel “out of control”. But what is it that I am losing control over? I don’t know. But there is something there, deep down.

After I do and say those things, I am left feeling deflated. Having not spoken for hours, my voice hardly comes out. It is also embarrassing. Acting out and then suddenly acting normal again? That is hard to do. It takes me a while to return back to my normal self.

In therapy, I learnt how to handle situations like this. Keeping a thought record and using the DBT skill STOPP! is really helpful.

Stop!

Say it to yourself, in your head, as soon as you notice your mind and/or your body is reacting to a trigger. Taking a step back helps to put in the space between the stimulus (the trigger, whatever we are reacting to) and our response. The earlier you use STOPP, the easier and more effective it will be.

Take a Breath

Breathing deeper and slower will calm down and reduce the physical reaction of emotion/adrenaline. Focusing on our breathing means we are not so focused on the thoughts and feelings of the distress, so that our minds can start to clear and we can think more logically and rationally.

Observe

We can notice the thoughts going through our mind, we can also notice what we feel in our body, and we can notice the urge to react in an impulsive way. We can notice the vicious cycle of anxiety, sadness or anger (etc). Noticing helps us to defuse from those thoughts and feelings and therefore reduce their power and control. Are you feeling hot? Sweaty? What is your hands doing? Are you feeling tearful? Just notice.

Put things into Perspective

Challenge your thoughts before you act. Thinking differently. When we step back emotionally from a situation, and start to see the bigger picture, it reduces those distressing beliefs. We can do this by asking ourselves questions. Is it worth it? How would I feel after acting on the thought?

Practise what works

Rather than reacting impulsively with unhelpful consequences, we can CHOOSE a more helpful and positive response. I like to walk away, get out of the situation, because staying will not calm me down. Getting away and doing something else can make me calm down.

 

My Birthday Trip To Paris!

For my 24th birthday this year, I decided to challenge myself and book a trip away to Paris with my friend Hannah. I’ve only ever been to Scotland, which is of course in the UK but going to France was a massive step in my recovery. It’s the first ever proper country I’ve been to.

Travelling for me has always been something I have avoided all my life due to my anorexia and anxiety but I have always craved to travel somewhere (except for Bangladesh which I do not count as a holiday).

Of course, I had other fears – the increase in terror attacks in France for one. That’s why before, I never really wanted to travel to Europe because of the fear of Islamist terrorism – and that really increased my anxiety and panic levels. But what will you achieve if you just avoid going to places because you are scared a terror attack will happen? That is letting the terrorists win. You cannot stop living your life because of terrorism and unfortunately terror in Europe is the norm now, so you must be vigilant but not afraid.

On this trip (we stayed for 3 nights) I realised what I can actually do. I can be spontaneous and I can let go and have fun. I realised that I don’t have to be confined inside this little shell of myself anymore. I can go out and I can socialise and I can eat! Surprisingly, the pressure of eating eased off during this trip – I think mainly because I was in a different place and my hotel had a gym – so in a way, I felt safe. I have to say, I purposely chose a hotel that had facilities to suit my needs, where I know I can workout at the end of the day, so I don’t get too overwhelmed with what I’ve eaten.

Of course, I did feel overwhelmed but having a friend with me who understands what it’s like really helped me.

It was the perfect time to be in Paris because it was of course the French elections and the campaigning was in full force when I was there. An election, or anything to do with politics rather, is right up my street as I cover it at work. Being on holiday didn’t stop me from asking people what they think about the candidates – and when people found out that I am a BBC journalist, they did not hesitate to ask me what I think about it. As soon as I mentioned Marine Le Pen, the French people immediately wanted to debate with me. It was interesting to see what people thought about a Le Pen win. It was also interesting to see what the French think about Brexit. Now, it’s against Macron v Le Pen – we had Brexit, we had Trump, a Le Pen win could be a massive possibility!

Places we’ve visited…

  • Eiffel Tower
  • Louvre museum
  • A cruise across The River Seine
  • Arc De Triomphe at the Champs-Élysées
  • Sacré-Cœur

I completely forgot that I had Bangladeshi relatives (an auntie + family) who live in France. They found out (from my parents) that I was in France and decided to call me up and invite me to my cousins’ wedding! If you know me, you’d know that I hate Asian weddings and in the UK, I always avoid going to them. But since I was in a different country, I decided to go! My friend Hannah also wanted to experience what an Asian wedding is like, so this was a good opportunity.

All in all, I had an amazing time away and ready for my next adventure! I just experienced what recovery can be like and it is great, so maybe, I should keep going?

World Mental Health Day 2016: BPD and ME

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As it is World Mental Health Day, I want to speak out about one of my recent diagnosis – Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD).

People often have a negative view about BPD and that is why I am reluctant to speak about it publicly. Why? Because it shows how I’m not as perfect as I want to be or as much I want people to think I am. My eating disorder doesn’t make me perfect, but at least I can control my weight and make it perfect for me. Whereas BPD makes people think I’m evil and a horrible person because it’s out of my control and brings out the worst in me.

I wish people would understand me but they don’t. There is always an explanation for the way I behave. It’s not because I’m a bad person even though it may seem like it. I promise the things I do does not come from bad intentions. It comes from a need to feel like I belong.

I’ve always found it hard to make and keep friends. BPD makes close friendships difficult. No one seems to stay for long in my life and I often become a burden for people because I am vulnerable, fragile, difficult and too dependent. I expect too much from people. I want to feel needed, I want to feel wanted and I want to feel like I matter. I want someone to be spontaneous and take me places, because I never had that as a child. I want to feel safe and cared for, because I never felt that as a child. I want to be treated as a first choice, because I’ve never been someone’s first choice.

I never felt like I fitted in as a child. I always felt left out. People hurt me. I was always on my own. I was my own best friend and own worst enemy. That is why whenever I get close to someone now; I fear abandonment and rejection which leads to me losing people because they get scared and back away as I try so hard to keep them. I would do anything for someone I love not to leave me. In the past – it has ended up with threats, multiple suicide attempts, threats of suicide and self-harm, in an attempt to blackmail people not to leave me. It’s not a selfish part of me, but a desperate cry for help. I have so much love and care to give – that’s all I want. I want to feel worthy for once.

If I make plans with friends and for some reason they cancel, it triggers me into thinking they hate me and they have probably found someone else they would rather hang out with. I get upset and mad. I don’t think about their reason, I automatically think it’s about me. The reason is always me. That is why I need constant reassurance from people that they still like me and care about me.

And only recently, I realised this part of my personality not only affects my personal relationships, but also affects my professional relationships and how I relate to people in the workplace. If I don’t somehow feel like I belong in a team, I feel unimportant which makes me feel worthless. If I don’t get praised at work and get criticism, I feel like it’s the end of the world and everyone hates me and get paranoid that I will lose my job. It comes hand in hand with perfectionism. I must do all I can to feel accepted because I never felt accepted as a child.

So, the cause of BPD is often deep rooted . Trying to keep up with constant feelings of self-doubt and worthlessness is exhausting, but with an intense form of Dynamic Interpersonal Therapy (DIT), it has made me understand why I do the things I do. I found out that my BPD is connected to my anorexia. With my DIT therapist, I found links to why I behave the way I do and it really makes sense.

Living with BPD is so hard – you will not understand how hard it is unless you have it yourself. The behaviours are only a reaction of what we fear the most – that have already happened to us before. For me, not feeling like I got enough love as a child, being used, being bullied, feeling left out – are all combination of things why it is hard for me to form healthy and stable relationships in adulthood.

However, as I recover, I am realising I have behaved inappropriately towards people which ruined a lot of friendships. I did those things because I was in a bad place and let my illness control me. I am not denying responsibility at all. I am at fault. I know I hurt people with my words and impulsive actions and I hate myself for that. I wish I could turn back time and start again. But, whats done is done and I can only work on it and improve myself for the better.

I am not a bad person, I promise. All I want is to feel is loved for once in my life. People think I only care about myself but that is not true. It may seem like I think the whole world revolves around me but it is far from that – it is a little girl, who hasn’t properly grown up, so desperate to give love as well as receive love. I am fun, funny, silly and caring – I just had a difficult childhood that has left me in this mental state, but I am still a human being.

If a friend or a loved one struggles with BPD, I just need you to know that they are not a bad person. They are just scared. Please please don’t leave them if you really love and care about them. It hurts. It hurts so badly when someone you love abandons you. Help that person. Be there for them. And if it gets too much and you decide to leave them, please don’t be harsh to them – try not to end things in a bad way. Reassure them that things will get better and that they are not alone. It will make every bit of difference.

 

3 Positive Songs For 3 Negative Feelings

I believe that music can save lives. It certainly saved my life many times in the past. Whilst I was growing up, these were three songs that significantly helped me through some of the hardest times in my life (with a story behind them). 

DESPAIR

Miley Cyrus – The Climb

This song has had quite a big significance in my life. I was at school (Year 11) when it came out. It was a time where I just had enough of school and I just couldn’t wait to leave. I always had a dream my entire schooling life that I would one day escape this misery and become this successful person, to prove the bullies wrong. However, I never believed in myself back then. I thought I’ll never reach that end goal and always put myself down at every chance I got. Getting told I will never be successful didn’t help either. This song gave me some sort of hope. The lyrics really resonated with me and I actually listened to it. When I listen back to this song now, I remember all the times I felt like I won’t get very far, and then realise where I am now. It is such a great feeling.

Whenever you feel like you can’t do something or won’t ever get very far in life, do not stop trying. Don’t give up. There is no rush. You will get there one day. Keep doing everything you can to get there and one day, you’ll be living in that dream.

“I can almost see it. That dream I’m dreaming but there’s a voice inside my head saying you’ll never reach it…My faith is shaking but I got to keep trying. Got to keep my head held high…”

FEAR

Hilary Duff – Fly

Again, a trip down memory lane, school days. I was a big Hilary Duff fan , who wasn’t? She was a prominent figure in the charts back then. Fly came out in 2004. So, I was 12 years old! It is no secret that I had suffered with crippling anxiety ever since primary school and all throughout secondary school. I always loved singing and dancing but always struggled with the confidence to go and perform in public. I always wanted to join a band or join my school choir but we had to audition to get in at my school. I kept putting it off because I felt scared and nervous.

This song gave me huge amount of encouragement to just do it. Nothing was stopping me but myself. So, I did it. I auditioned for some sort school gospel thing but I didn’t get into that. However, I eventually joined my school rock band. Music was my passion back then and I had no reason not to pursue what I enjoyed the most. Even now, whenever I feel like my anxiety is stopping me from doing something, I listen to this song for a bit of encouragement and it really works. Even if you bite the bullet and fail, at least you know you tried and that’s the most important thing.

“Fly, open up the part of you that wants to hide away. You can shine.
Forget about the reasons why you can in life and start to try…

…and when you’re down and feel alone, just want to run away. Trust yourself and don’t give up, you know you better than anyone else”

FEELING DIFFERENT

Sugababes – Ugly

One of the reasons why I was bullied at school was because I was different and also short for my age. It was easy for people to pick on me because I was small and I didn’t have the confidence to stand up for myself. Just a disclaimer, my anorexia wasn’t caused by bad body image. It wasn’t a superficial reason but being different played a part.

In school, I was basically an emo/goth/punk, whatever you want to call it. In a girls school, 97% Muslim/Asian, that was like I was from a whole different planet. I didn’t fit in or had any similar interests to anyone. I was an outsider – the odd-one-out. Back then, I was ashamed of being different. I hated the fact that I was short and I hated that no one around me liked the same things as me.

This song really helped me realise that everyone is the same but different. Individuality and being different is what makes us interesting, and we should never be ashamed of ourselves. It also helped me realise that looks can only get you so far, and people should only judge you for your personality. You can be good looking but an awful, horrible person. For me, looks is an important part of my life, but everyday, I work on myself and on my personality, trying to improve and be the best version of myself.

“There was a time when I felt like I cared. That I was shorter than everyone there. People made me feel like life was unfair….

Everybody talks bad about somebody and never realises how it affects somebody. And you bet it won’t be forgotten. Envy is the only thing it could be.”

Do you have a certain song that helped you through tough times or a certain emotion? Let me know in the comments!

When Comedy Becomes Therapy

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See Richard Gadd: Monkey See Monkey Do at the Banshee Cinema, 6th – 28th August, 9.45pm

‘Laughter is the best medicine’ is a phrase we often hear but we don’t really look that deep into it. Laughter, can actually save lives. In 2014, a study by the British Journal of Psychiatry found that those working in comedy may have “high levels of psychotic personality traits”.

We all know Stephen Fry, Ruby Wax and David Walliams – big comedians who also happen to suffer from mental illness and are very public about it. It is a rather interesting concept that comedians, who are deeply unhappy individuals, some who also suffer with crippling social anxiety, can stand in front of thousands of people aiming to entertain and make them laugh, just to keep themselves from self-destructing.

What do we tend to do for distraction when we are feeling sad? Well, everyone is different. Some listen to music, get some fresh air or exercise. But others tend to stick a funny film or a TV show on to reverse that sadness, even if it’s only for that moment; to take away the sadness temporarily and just for that moment, it can let you forget about whatever is making you sad. Laughing, even for a short amount of time, can do wonders to your mental health.

A lot of ‘normal’ functioning people perform comedy because they simply enjoy it and are good at it but those with mental health issues can use comedy as a coping mechanism that distracts them from their inner-demons.

Paul McMullan, Naomi Petersen and Richard Gadd are stand-up comedians performing at this year’s Edinburgh Fringe Festival. They all suffer with mental illness and their shows face these issues head on.
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See Paul McMullan: Alocopop at the Pleasance Bunker 3rd – 28th August, 9.15pm

After developing an alcohol-addiction, Paul had lost everything; his house, his job, and with two children to support, he realised he had to sort himself out.

He says comedy gives him some normality. “Prior to starting comedy, the only time I left the house was to go to work or attend meeting of Alcoholics. I realised I didn’t need alcohol to function. I learnt I could be around people drinking without me wanting to join in.”

“It also allows me to talk about my alcoholism and not to be ashamed of it,” he adds.

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See Naomi Petersen: I Am Telling You I’m Not Going at the Pleasance Cellar 3rd – 29th August, 3.30pm 

Naomi, who suffers from anxiety also says comedy has had a positive effect on her mental health. “I’ve actually found it to be pretty life changing. In the last year or so I’ve been in a much better place anxiety-wise, and I know comedy has played a huge part in that.”

“I feel it’s mainly about rediscovering a sense of play”, she adds. ” I’ve found writing and performing comedy to be a very joyous, uplifting experience. As adults, I think society actively discourages us from playing, from being silly and re-connecting with our inner child but I think it’s so important. Comedy is really all about finding and following the fun, so if you’re fully focused on that it’s so much harder to let those overwhelmingly negative thoughts creep in,” she says.

However, some comedians believe that comedy can also hinder their mental health.

“If anything it probably makes them slightly worse. The overwhelming apocalyptic feeling I have on a day to day basis is never so strong than just before I go on stage,” says Richard Gadd who suffers with insomnia, anxiety and depression.

“But the feeling of it going well – especially when you are exploring themes of mental illness and personal upheaval – gives you validation that it is okay to feel that way and that other people laughing feel the same way too, or at least understand. It’s catharsis in the purest form. Although my honest answer is it both helps and hinders my mental state,” he adds.

But when does making a joke about mental health go too far?

“I think you have to remember that it’s comedy, so if the audience don’t laugh you are doing something wrong. Make people feel uncomfortable if you want, but make sure the laughter is there to relieve the tension”, says Paul.

“Badly researched jokes that are based on stereotypes offend me. I think you have to be qualified to talk about certain subject matters. I have no idea what is like to suffer with bipolar disorder, so I won’t do jokes about it, but I know what it is like to be an alcoholic,” he adds.

Naomi says it is all about intention. “As soon as joking becomes deliberately mean, then it’s gone too far; as long as people are responsible and careful then I don’t think you’re in danger of accidentally going too far either.”

She says for her, it is all about care. “We have to care about our characters, about the people we’re exploring, about what we’re doing.”

Richard says comedy is about testing your emotions and the way you react to sensitive topics. He explains why comedy is important to form individual opinions. “It’s supposed to make you question things. It is a way of sharing and changing opinion. If you take away boundary pushing, what do you get? It’s just talking. Comedy becomes offensive when it’s just offensive for offensives sake – when it’s only there to cause offense.”

“It becomes discussion and that’s important. Testing people with opinion and subverting convention is essential,” he adds.

Richard makes a good point about comedy opening up debate and discussion. It can be a huge exposure to mental health awareness. Using comedy to break down the stigma is an incredible way to encourage people to talk about it in a comfortable way. As a sufferer myself, I will only get offended by jokes that are told by people who have no experience of whatever they are joking about. You don’t know what it is like to experience a mental health problem unless you have been through it personally – and for me, that is important. You need to know what you are talking about.

Paul, Naomi and Richard have found some sense of comfort using comedy to open up about their mental health. It has not only given them a platform to help themselves but it has also encouraged others to not be afraid to talk about it.

Paul says he has had a number of people come up to him admitting they have similar issues. “If one person who sees my show gets help because of their drinking problem, well then I’ve done alright really.”

Naomi tells me that by bringing mental health out into the open and laughing at it, then it’s no longer a taboo subject. “Those suffering will feel less alone and others are able to understand it better,” she says.

Richard explains that the impact of a recognised comedian appearing on television, talking about their depression and how they got through it, could do a widespread good to people suffering from mental illness around the country. “I’m amazed it’s not more commonplace by now. It’s getting better though – and I have every faith.”

Paul, Naomi and Richard will be performing at this year’s Edinburgh Fringe Festival. For tickets to their shows, please visit: http://www.edfringe.com

Social Anxiety No Longer Controls Me

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As I am writing this now, I couldn’t be more confident. I never thought I’d arrive at this stage because all my life, I suffered with crippling social anxiety. To overcome it, was something I’d always wished for but never thought I’d be able to. I am surprised that recently, people tell me that I seem bubbly and perky. That was never me in the past.

When someone finds out I suffer with depression and anxiety, they find it hard to believe because I apparently always seem cheerful and have a smile on my face despite my daily struggles. Smiling makes you appear more confident and I am glad people perceive me that way.

I know what it is like to feel invisible. To feel ashamed and embarrassed in public. To feel like every word that comes out of your mouth will be scrutinised and judged. To have that stomach churning feeling before going outside. Before, I had to mentally and physically prepare myself before going out. I used to feel sick at the thought of people looking at me. I always looked down when walking, hoping no one talks to me or sees my “ugly” face.

The purpose of this piece is make people aware that it won’t be like this forever because right now, I can safely say that I have overcome social anxiety.

The key to becoming more confident is simple. Just do it. The amount of times I pushed myself into scary situations and felt it went terribly – well it did go terribly and I have embarrassed myself numerous of times but did it kill me? No. I have been rejected and I still do get rejected. Yes, it does get me down but I learnt not to dwell on the mistakes. I learnt not to overthink. Instead, I learnt to keep trying, despite the knock backs and failures. The more mistakes I made, the more rejections I received, it only made me stronger. It made me try again and that has resulted in me not being scared anymore and in turn, it made me confident in myself.

Now, I do and say the most silliest and bravest things, which I could never have done previously. I walk with my head held high. I smile. I wear tiaras and flowers on my hair for God’s sake! I obviously stand out and I always get complimented on my style. That boosts my confidence. Looking good definitely plays a part in appearing more confident. Of course, there are mornings when I wake up and feel like hiding away but then, I wear my best outfit and rock it, and I automatically feel on top of the world. I like being silly, I like laughing and having fun and I like not being scared to just talk. I have a voice, why should I be afraid to use it? I ruined so many opportunities in the past because of my lack in confidence, so now I am on mission to face everything head on.

I don’t know if it is the amount of CBT I had or if it is my medication that’s helping, but honestly, I just feel like a new person (not taking into account my anorexia). I must be honest though – sometimes my confidence can be detrimental. I can almost appear too confident and become hypomanic as a result of my personality disorder. However, I am more in control of this now and aware of when it gets to that point.

No matter how anxious you feel, please know that it won’t be this way forever. The answer to overcoming anxiety is to just keep putting yourself into scary situations, face that fear, make mistakes and go back and keep doing it until ‘fear’ no longer means anything to you.

This post is published on The Huffington Post UK.